Is your women in leadership course hitting the mark?

Does that women in leadership workshop really address the needs of female leaders? Or is it simply a standard leadership course with a new name?  The distinction is important. Adding assertiveness modules to a leadership program doesn’t transform it into an effective women in leadership program? Nor does adding few inspirational speeches by ‘female role models’.   

So, what makes a robust, well-designed workshop for female leadersAt a minimum, it is grounded in relevant research. And it covers practical strategies for handling three hot issues which confront women as they push the frontiers of leadership. 

The ‘double bind’ dynamic 

When a female leader receives two conflicting messages about how she should behave, she encounters a paralysing double bind. For example, competent leaders are expected to behave decisively. Yet when women do this, they are perceived as pushy. There are many paradoxical situations which catch female leaders in a double bind. Yet few women in leadership programs address this dynamic.  

Gendered communication 

There is abundant evidence that gender influences communication habits. In the past, women have been encouraged to shift their communication styles in order to ‘be heard’ more effectively. Today, however, this approach is being questioned. An effective women in leadership workshop acknowledges this. It provides participants with a range of options for reshaping communication dynamics: at personal, team and organisational levels.  

Systemic pushback 

Organisational culture is disrupted when women enter senior leadership roles. Cultures are social systems – and when social systems are disrupted, pushback occurs. Peter Senger refers to this dynamic as the ‘system reasserting itself’. What does this mean for female leaders? That they are likely to encounter a range of problems as they attempt to lead. These include: 

  1. Mobbing by subordinates 
  2. Vexatious complaints of bullying 
  3. Attempts to undermine their credibility in public forums 
  4. Poor support from senior leaders when issues are reported 
  5. Insufficient female mentors and role models to provide guidance on navigating cultural pushback 
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Tips on handling all of these issues should be included in any workshop for female leaders. Additionally, participants should be provided with one-to-one support as part of their women in leadership program.   

Women are entering the leadership arena in greater numbers than ever before. Thriving in this space requires political acumen, resilience and the ability to drive change despite systemic pushback. Make sure your next women in leadership program contains evidence-based content in all of these areas.  

About the author of this article: 

Eleanor Shakiba is a specialist in positive psychology training. She has helped over 50,000 professionals to build confidence, presence and influence at work. Her passion is working with the ‘positive deviants’ in organisations – equipping them to think creatively and build a better world. Eleanor is the author of the Positive Psychology Toolkit for HR and L&D practitioners. She also runs a range of retreats and workshops for trainers and facilitators.